My three-year fitness journey (Part I): Taking control

In August 2018, I was at the soccer fields with my daughter, while the Seattle Sounders went through a normal training session. I was finishing some interviews while she enjoyed the playground at the park nearby, and she decided she wanted to check out the soccer fields. “Any chance to get her more interested in soccer, I should take,” I thought (Spoiler: it hasn’t really worked). So we made our way over to the side-pitches as I watched her run around. As I’m wont to do, I started taking pictures of her exploring and after a while, she decided she wanted to turn the tables and take some pictures of me.

Now, I’ve never had a particular aversion to having my photo taken, whatever shape I was in. Sure, when I was fitter I enjoyed it more, but I wasn’t the guy to make excuses to get out of being in photos myself. I’m a sucker for my daughter’s requests (okay, demands), and it was my phone, so I could immediately delete it if it wasn’t a flattering picture.

(Another spoiler: It wasn’t)

Now, to preface the rest of this story with what feels like an obligatory preamble: I’m writing this in the aftermath of the virus-that-shall-not-be-named. There has been a lot written about weight issues, body positivity and mental health. It’s a bit beyond the scope of what I’m writing here, though I felt it would be remiss not to mention it.

Suffice it to say, it’s a lot right now, and not everyone is in the mental/physical/financial space to address their fitness and/or nutrition concerns. That said, you should always feel able to improve yourself if you want–talking specifically about health, weight & fitness here–and don’t let anyone persuade you differently if that’s what you want to do. It’s your life and your body, and you’re the one that will have to deal with the consequences of your choices.

Back to the story.

2018

Looking at the picture was a bit of a shock to my system. I’d never considered myself particularly unkempt/unfit. But something about this photo just hit…differently. The baggy pants, the ratty t-shirt, the unbuttoned shirt. It was a bit of a mess all around. To be sure, that wasn’t how I presented myself on a daily basis (who gets suited up for a trip to the park, after all), but yeah.

Questionable wardrobe choices aside, more concerning to me was the body the clothes were covering. Over the course of my then-43 years of life, there have been periods where I’ve been satisfied/unhappy/indifferent with my body, placing me in good company with approximately 99.9% of the population throughout the history of the planet. I’ve done diets successfully and failed spectacularly, losing upwards of 50 pounds on a few occasions, maintaining and putting it back on.

But this time around, seeing that picture…it was different. It’s not just that I was likely at my highest weight ever (and I surely was), it was that the photo captured what was the culmination of many years of poor eating habits and inconsistent exercise. My diet was of course the overriding issue. Highly processed, highly palatable calorie dense foods. High-calorie alcohol, way too much of it, way too often (IPA’s, I’m looking at you). The only vegetables that ever saw my plate were covered in cheese, croutons and Caesar dressing.

It’s all tasty, don’t get me wrong, but anything to excess is bound to cause problems eventually. And I was definitely getting the warning signs, including poor sleep/snoring, asthma and joint pain. When bending over to tie your shoes leaves you out of breath, it’s probably time to do some self-reflection about your situation.

Years of too many IPAs.

And with that photo staring back at me, like a distorted reflection in a rippling lake, it was impossible to deny the reality of the situation: I was unhealthy. Obese. Now, I don’t want to make it seem this realization led to an existential breakdown, but there is something humbling about coming to terms with what you perceive as a personal failure. It can happen in any aspect of your life, whether that be financial, romantic or spiritual. It can lead to merely being disappointed for letting yourself down, spiral into depression or worse. For me, it brought into focus what I had denied for years, that I had not taken care of myself as I felt I should.

Having finally acknowledged the reality of where my health was at, I had to figure out what I was going to do about it. One benefit of frequent dieting is that unless you’re completely delusional, you at least have a general idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’m not talking about fad diets, juice cleanses and detox teas, but cutting down on alcohol and soda, limiting greasy food, getting up and moving more.

Still, there’s a lot more to it than that. Finding motivation to start, having the determination or willpower to stick with it and addressing the issues that make it so difficult to reach your goals are just a few. For me, I’m pretty good at sticking with a program once I get started. It’s just that taking the first step of what is a daunting journey is what trips me up.

But this time around, I had the added motivation of getting healthy for my daughter, and the fear of deteriorating health to spur me along. And I had the previous successes and failures to be my guide.

I also had a plan.

Having done Atkins around 15 years ago with successful results, I’d seen a couple of friends lose weight on something called “Keto.” I’m not going to evangelize Keto here; in the years since, it’s become one of the most polarizing diets out there. Frankly, I’m not sure who are more annoying at this point: Keto zealots or Keto haters.

The main thing I’ve learned in the years since is that the most effective diet to lose weight is the one that you can stick with long term. When I did Atkins many years ago, after I successfully hit my goal weight, the first thing I did was go to Dairy Queen to get a fish sandwich, large fry and large Oreo Blizzard. One taste, and I left Atkins far behind. Not surprisingly, the weight returned. Not all at once, but like a snowball rolling down the mountain, it eventually turned into an avalanche, overwhelming me.

So this time around, I decided to arm myself with the one thing I’d failed to use in my previous diet attempts: Knowledge.

As I said, I’ve previously dieted successfully. 20 pounds here, 50 pounds there. But the weight always returned, eventually. Inevitably. What I’d lacked in my previous diet attempts–both successful and not–was an understanding of why I was successful, or not. Again, most people have a general understanding that over-consuming food, particularly obviously “unhealthy” food, is going to lead to weight gain.

But I really had a complete lack of understanding about food, nutrition and exercise. Calories and nutrients, protein and carbohydrates. The kinds of things that aren’t taught in high school health class, and if they are, nobody is paying attention to them. But it’s the kind of stuff that if you have even a basic understanding of how these things impact your health, it can save you a lot of heartache (and heartburn).

For me, learning the basics about “calories in, calories out,” was really a game-changer. While there are any number of things that affect weight loss/gain on the margins, the bottom line is that on a base level, if you’re gaining weight, you’re eating too much for you current size, and if you’re losing weight, you’re eating less than you need for your current size. Much like father time, physics remains undefeated. Once I got a handle on the basic math, I could formulate a plan to reach my goal.

And my goal was a pretty reasonable one. By Summer 2019, I wanted to lose 50 pounds. Beginning in November 2018, that meant losing about 1.5 pounds per week, which is right in line with the recommended level of weight loss for someone teetering in the obese category. So I had a goal (lose 50 pounds), a reasonable timeline (9 months) and a diet plan (Keto).

Nothing to it, but to do it, right?

NEXT: (Part II: Executing the plan)

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